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A Strange and Stubborn Endurance by Foz Meadows


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A Strange and Stubborn Endurance

by Foz Meadows
July 26, 2022 · Tor Books
Mystery/ThrillerRomanceScience Fiction/Fantasy

Content warnings

TW: explicit rape scene, homophobia and transphobia, murder of a horse, toxic sibling rivalry, suicidal ideation, violence

Oh my gosh, this was such a tender m/m fantasy romance, steeped in narratives about healing, acceptance, and love. It’s also a mystery about a series of bloody, brutal killings (including, I regret to inform you, the death of a horse). And it’s a political thriller. There’s a lot happening here and fortunately the novel takes its time with all the pieces although it doesn’t quite stick the landing. While the book involves a lot of trauma and pain, the tone is consistently one of healing and acceptance and the book is often sad but never depressing, while the happy ending feels richly earned.

Here’s the publisher’s description of the plot:

Velasin vin Aaronever planned to marry at all, let alone a girl from neighboring Tithena. When an ugly confrontation reveals his preference for men, Vel fears he’s ruined the diplomatic union before it can even begin. But while his family is ready to disown him, the Tithenai envoy has a different solution: for Vel to marry his former intended’s brother instead.

Caethari Aeduria always knew he might end up in a political marriage, but his sudden betrothal to a man from Ralia, where such relationships are forbidden, comes as a shock.

With an unknown faction willing to kill to end their new alliance, Vel and Cae have no choice but to trust each other. Survival is one thing, but love—as both will learn—is quite another.

There are a lot of threads here, what with the romance and the politics and the healing from trauma and the solving a series of crimes, and contrast between a society steeped in toxic masculinity and homophobia (Ralia, where Velasin comes from) and a more open and flexible society (Tithena). Yet the book feels leisurely. At times I felt it was too leisurely, even a bit slow and repetitive. But mostly I appreciated the pace, which gives ample time to each theme. In particular, the book pays realistic attention to

TW/CW

Velasin’s slow recovery from sexual assault

and to the gentle, warm, patient but sexy romance that develops between Velasin and Cae.

While there’s a lot of plot, the book really centers characters and their relationships with each other. Velasin and his valet, Markel, begin the story with a mutually respectful partnership, and under the looser political and social structures of male relationships in Tithena, their friendship flourishes. To Cae’s considerable embarrassment, and my delight, a bantering friendship develops between Velasin and Cae’s ex, Liran. As Velasin becomes more accustomed to Ralian norms, he is able to express affection of both platonic and romantic kinds to men, and this freedom opens him up in a way that is simply lovely to witness.

This is definitely a story that values intelligence, particularly of the emotional and political varieties. Markel, Cae, and Velasin use knowledge of a variety of languages, including sign language, to great effect in gaining and sharing information and sometimes in simply surprising people. They also display a lot of political acumen – especially Velasin, who is very good at politics and genuinely enjoys it. If you enjoy “smart is sexy” tropes and the intricacies of becoming familiar with a new culture, you’ll really like this. Also there’s magic, although the magical element is pretty minor.

The message that everything is better in Ralia gets a little heavy handed. Not content to be better in terms of cultural mores that embrace queerness, Ralia is better at EVERYTHING, including food (which, OMG, so much good food, I wanted to eat it SO MUCH), fashion, government – you name it, Ralia is better. Also, the plot is repetitive. Every day our heroes wake up, they eat something amazing, they have sexual tension, someone dies, they worry about it, repeat. And there are not one, but two lengthy villain monologues which are handy for explaining the mystery to the reader but otherwise kinda silly.

TW/CW - details of sexual assault

This book does contain a graphic rape scene early on. I often nope right of books that involve rape, but I felt that this book handled it very well. First of all, the scene challenges some myths about rape, specifically showing that men can be raped, that even if the victim responds on a biological level, it’s still rape, and that lack of consent equals rape even if the rapist and the victim had consensual sex earlier in their history.

Further, a lot of time and attention is given to Velasin’s mental, emotional, and physical recovery. This is a painful journey, but not a depressing one, possibly because Velasin’s emotional trauma is balanced by the interesting things happening around him and because although Velasin’s culture and family is rife with homophobia, he has a strong support system in Markel, in Cae (who he confides in early in their relationship), and in others in Cae’s circle.

If Game of Thrones was about two brilliant cinnamon roll heroes in a world where a few people are vile and a few people are ruthless, but most people are either flat-out awesome or at the very least pretty OK, it would sort of resemble this book. There are no dragons, I’m sorry to say, but there is a lot of food and fashion, some action scenes, and a smattering of magic. Above all, if you like intelligent heroes and narratives of healing, slow burn romance, and found family, you can’t miss with this book.

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